This is the first in a series of articles that looks at the voters who could be most decisive in the 2020 election.
Before getting Covid-19, Katie Mazzocco had a plan for every part of her life.
The 34-year-old entrepreneur and mother of two always voted, but was not involved in political organization prior to Donald Trump's election in 2016. Like thousands of others, Mazzocco was equally terrified and energized by Trump's presidency. Prior to the 2020 election, she had a plan to make hundreds of calls a day and knock on doors in her suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is part of a major swing district, to encourage her neighbors to vote this autumn.
Now her old life is completely unrecognizable. Mazzocco's once jam-packed days are mostly spent in bed and suffer from long-term Covid-19 complications that vary between brain fog and excruciating chest pain.
"I still try to hold my body together every day," Mazzocco told me in a recent interview. "Some days I can't even speak."
Her once thriving self-owned business is now on hiatus. She rarely has the energy to help her 10 year old twins with their schoolwork at home. Her husband, a teacher in a local school district, now teaches his students from home. Mazzocco counts a good day as a day when she can go to the bathroom on her own and brush her teeth instead of falling over the shoulder of one of her daughters, husband or mother – who lives with the family to help to help with childcare, cooking and cleaning.
Mazzocco has long-term complications due to Covid-19.Ross Mantle for Vox
Mazzocco with her husband. "Some days I can't even speak," she says. Ross Mantle for Vox
"It drives me crazy because I'm such a doer and a top performer," said Mazzocco. "Some days my brain is online … some days it's flattened. It's excruciating."
Mazzocco belongs to a relatively small group of Covid-19 patients with long-term complications. But she is one of millions of women in the United States whose work and personal lives have been disrupted by the pandemic. Vox interviewed several such women across the country and found that they organized themselves from their kitchen and living room – the time for complacency is over.
Many of them have stories similar to Mazzocco. They were previously committed voters paying attention to politics, but Trump's victory made them realize that one vote alone was not enough. Through her networks of PTA mothers, neighbors and friends, a women-run grassroots army is developing.
"I have a feeling when you turn women on, there's this contagion where other women see that and say, 'Okay, so can I," said Claire Reagan, a teacher and mother of two living in the suburbs lives outside of Kansas City, Kansas.
Organizing is one of the few things Mazzocco can still do from her bed – coordinating by texting and writing letters. Their range is impressive. She estimates that she texted more than 10,000 people to encourage them to vote and help them create a plan. On average, around 100 to 200 calls are held per week. And while life is a daily struggle, Mazzocco hopes this choice will bring about real change.
"I think people are excited and hoping for change," she told me. “I want everyone to see that they can be so connected. it is not that hard."
Suburban women, once a reliable bloc for Republicans, sparked a blue wave for House Democrats in the medium term in 2018. If 2018 was a symbolic charge against Trump, respondents from both parties expect these women to show their power against Trump in 2020. The ongoing effects of the pandemic have only compounded their revolt against the president.
"Common sense suggests that suburban women were skeptical of Trump ahead of the pandemic," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. "The fact that their lives were completely disrupted by school closings and the attempt to help 6- and 7-year-olds learn virtually while keeping a job only exacerbated their already existing skepticism about Trump."
Why Trump repels a lot of suburban women
In mid-October, Trump stood on stage in Johnstown, Pennsylvania – about 65 miles from Pittsburgh – practically asking suburban women to vote for him.
"Suburban women, will you like me please?" Pleaded Trump. "I saved your damn neighborhood, okay?"
Trump has good reason to be concerned about women in Pennsylvania and other swing states. National and state surveys show that the Democratic candidate Joe Biden asked women about 25 points better than Trump on average (Hillary Clinton asked women 14 points ahead of Trump in 2016). If Biden's massive leeway continues on election day, it would be the largest gender gap for a Democratic candidate in history.
Democrats believe they can count on black women, the party's most trusted electoral bloc. They are more concerned about white women, a group that Trump narrowly won in 2016 – especially those with no college degrees. College white women voted 51 to 44 percent for Clinton over Trump in 2016, but their support has grown even more and solidified four years later. They favor Biden by almost 20 points, according to a poll by Fox News in early October. A Fox poll in the Midwest in late October contained more bad news for Trump. It showed that suburban women preferred Biden by 35 points in Michigan, 29 points in Pennsylvania, and 21 points in Wisconsin.
There's a simple reason for these numbers. Trump indulges in being rude, macho and chaotic – everything that many female voters despise, pollsters told me.
"They really didn't like Donald Trump's personal style. They thought he was a tyrant, they thought he was divisive," said veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who advises Biden's campaign. "They hate chaos. Suburban women really want stability."
Ayres, the Republican pollster, agreed.
"It is largely Trump's attitude towards women, his willingness to fight, his style and behavior," he said.
Trump's list of insults has grown so long that the New York Times started counting them (598 insults as of 2019). Recently, the president's anger has been targeted by the respected American infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, whom Trump recently called a "disaster" and a member of a group of "idiots" on a phone call with his campaign workers.
A family listens to Joe Biden during a car campaign in Dallas, Pennsylvania on October 24th. Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Annie Howell, a Trump supporter and election observer, speaks to the Luzerne County Board of Elections in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Oct. 22. SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images
Trump's rhetoric has gotten to the point where Claire Reagan, the teacher, and her husband turn off the TV when their young children are around to avoid even seeing the president.
"I don't want my kids to speak the way the president speaks," said Reagan, who lives in a conservative suburb outside of Kansas City, Kansas. “My kids know who Barack Obama is. We want them to see what strong, calm leadership looks like, and I can say the same thing if Mitt Romney had been elected. It has been very difficult to control how we expose our children to national politics. I don't think this will add to my children's understanding of the behavior of the people who make the rules. "
About four years after giving birth to their second child just before the 2016 election, Reagan was determined not to have a third child on November 3, 2020. She told me that she recently postponed her scheduled caesarean section until after election day.
"I didn't want to be in the hospital on election day," Reagan said. “I was billions of months pregnant in the 2016 elections. Ironically, I'm a billion months pregnant right now. She added, "I just remember how difficult 2016 felt."
Suburbs like Reagans used to be the main Republican territory. Halfway through 2018 was the first real wake-up call for the GOP that the suburbs and suburban white women pulled away from them.
That was not always so. In 2010, Democratic candidates lost white college graduates by a massive 19 percentage points. During the 2014 halftime, the Democrats continued their downward streak with the group, losing it by 16 points (both splits were banner years for Republicans). In the meantime in 2018, white suburbanites made an impressive 180-degree turn: white college-graded voters voted 8 points for Democratic candidates.
"The Republicans lost the suburban election for the first time in memory in 2018," said Ayres. “There is absolutely no sign that they are turning to Republicans again. If anything, they vote more for Democrats today. "
Meanwhile in 2018, Trump was symbolically reprimanded in the suburbs, which earned Democratic House candidates victories even in accessible districts in South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Kansas.
This year, Trump is on the ballot.
Trump has sparked a movement among suburban women
The story of suburban women in 2020 isn't just about voting for a Democratic presidential candidate. It's about a new wave of grassroots women-led organizations organized in some of the redest parts of the country and mostly focused on state and local races.
Erin Woods' attempt to organize in her suburb of Kansas City, Kansas really began after Republicans tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act 2017 and threatened to remove protection for pre-existing conditions without the cost of their insurance would soar.
Prior to the ACA, Woods had been rejected by several health insurance companies because of a pre-existing condition. She estimates that she paid around $ 40,000 in unnecessary premiums over several years.
"I've paid more for myself in premiums than we have for the rest of the family," Woods told me. "When I came back and looked at it, I said, 'Oh my god, it's been a couple of years of college. "
Nobody in her neighborhood really talked about politics before 2016, recalls Woods. But she began having conversations with other parents at PTA meetings and their friends, and then began emailing encouraging people to call their Senators and Representatives during the 2017 ACA repeal push in Washington, DC. Her email list turned into a physical group of 20 friends who also wanted to get involved in politics. Since then, there have been around 150 people who have been on the phone, filing literature, and writing postcards to encourage others to vote, Woods estimates.
"It's not that the men aren't there, but if you read the room, a lot of the people who are at work are women."
It has grown into a large, spiraling network made up mostly of women who bring in their friends organically. These networks live in private Facebook groups and text and email chains that light up when a new Biden / Harris sign shows up on a neighbor's lawn.
Women like Reagan and Anita Parsa, friends with Woods and part of their organizational group, described themselves as informed and moderately engaged voters prior to 2016. Many identify as disconnected and support individual candidates against a party. Now they are members of an army of galvanized women who organize from home. Some breastfeed new babies while others watch their children go to college.
Instead of telling their friends who to choose, these women just encourage their friends to vote.
"I got to know more women who are involved through my engagement," said Parsa. "It's kind of contagious; it gives you permission to talk about things you wouldn't otherwise do."
These women could shape their strongly republican state. Kansas is certainly not considered a swing state. But it's not immune to the political changes taking place in the suburbs – obviously in a surprisingly competitive Senate race two years after the Democrats beat the governor's race and a seat in the House of Representatives. A Republican pollster recently told me that the suburbs outside of Kansas City are "ground zero for suburban women fleeing the president."
Some of these neighborhoods have mansions, the homes of doctors and lawyers. They're traditionally temperate Republican areas, but there's a lot more evidence of Biden, Democratic Senate candidate Barbara Bollier, and local Democratic candidates standing on the manicured lawns these days. Taking into account the old political adage that "yard signs don't vote," Reagan noted she sees more Democratic signs outside people's homes than Republicans on the roadside – a sign that voters are voting for Democrats ready, a public one in 2020 To make a declaration.
Biden supporters participate in a rally in Kansas City, Missouri, March 7th. Kyle Rivas / Getty Images
"It's a neighborhood that joins a country club and drives a fancy car," said Parsa, who lives in Mission Hills, a suburb outside of Kansas City. "I don't think we've shifted dramatically to the left in this area. I think this is recognition of how extreme the candidates in the GOP are and how rashly they do whatever Trump wants to do."
Trump may have pushed their involvement, but these women also recognize that they can make most of the change in their local offices. Right now, Reagan, Parsa, and Woods' primary focus is on breaking the Republican super-majority in Kansas law (there's little chance of actually turning it around). And with women making up the bulk of this Kansas City suburbs organization group, the dream also exists of electing more women to office in the hopes of addressing issues like education, childcare, and health care.
"It's not that the men aren't there, but if you read the room, a lot of the people who are working right now are women," Reagan said. "Many of the local campaigns I have been in contact with are almost all carried out by women."
Trump basically does not understand the suburbs
The second major factor behind the suburban uprising against the Trump-led GOP is the fact that the American suburbs are simply much more diverse than they used to be. Far from the pure white enclaves of the 1960s and 1970s, America's suburbs are diversifying today – much like the rest of the country.
"Understanding how these suburbs are changing is extremely important," said David Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College who has studied them in depth. Rapidly changing suburbs could be the key to democratic success in southern and western states that were previously reliably republican. Red states like Arizona and Georgia now appear to be in the game for the Democrats in 2020 as Trump shuts down a combination of diversifying suburbs and moderate white voters.
A 2015 report by the Brookings Institution found that non-white people made up at least 35 percent of the suburban population in 36 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. Recent analysis by the New York Times found that the number of all-white census areas in the United States rose sharply – from about 25 percent in 1980 to just 5 percent in 2017, most of which were in rural areas.
Rather than focusing on health care or education even in the middle of a pandemic, Trump has settled on racial messages about suburban housing and "law and order".
"The 'suburban housewife' will vote for me," tweeted Trump in August. "They want security and are thrilled that I finished the long-term program where low-income homes would invade their neighborhood."
A Biden supporter attends a drive-in rally in Dallas, Pennsylvania on October 24th. Her sign reads “Suburban Republican Women Love Joe”. Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images
Trump supporters listen as the president speaks during a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Sept. 19. Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
But Trump's 2020 political overtures to American suburbs showcase his profound misunderstanding about who lives there.
"I think Trump has an understanding of the suburbs from a bygone era," said Hopkins. "When he thinks of the suburbs, he thinks of whites who are afraid of blacks in cities and of violence in cities."
Today's suburbs are very similar to the neighborhood of community college professor Daisy Foxx, 65, who lives in the suburbs outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina – another major 2020 swing state where Biden and Trump are statistically linked . The African American Foxx has lived here since 1996. She estimates that her neighborhood is mostly African American and the rest of the population is made up of Latin American and white families.
"It's only home," said Foxx. "What is important to me is that I have a nice place to stay, a church that I can go to."
There are few billboards for either party outside the big houses in Foxx 'neighborhood, but she said there is little doubt who many people are voting for.
"In my neighborhood, we're very worried about Trump and, to be honest, we're taking him out of office," said Foxx. "It has a lot to do with Covid-19 and how it divided this country. I've never seen it so divided. It's like a disease in the atmosphere and it's just terrible."
Foxx has never liked Trump. But like so many other women, she has seen Trump's lack of leadership regarding Covid-19 directly impact her life over the past year. Foxx wondered aloud if she should be putting up her Christmas decorations this year or if she was going to see her grandchildren over the holidays. And she loved her desire to have white women in the voting booths compete with their black counterparts and cast a ballot for the Biden / Harris ticket.
"African American women knew we knew exactly who was going to do a better job for us and our community," said Foxx. "I hope my white colleagues will see this."
The political gender gap is narrowing in marriages
The historic gap between women who support Biden and men who Trump supports in the polls is reducing everyday life – even some marriages.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake found that the gender gap between white men and women without college degrees is "huge".
"They have a record number of unmarried white women who are married to Trump voters," Lake said.
Martha, a retired nurse who lives outside of Shreveport, Louisiana, is in one of those politically divided marriages (she declined to give her last name on privacy concerns). Martha told me that she was Republican and was elected third in the 2016 election. Her husband, she says, didn't really pay much attention to politics until he found Trump in 2016. This year she votes for Biden and her husband stays with Trump. Politics has become a toxic issue in her household.
President Trump speaks during a rally in Bossier City, Louisiana on November 14, 2019. Matt Sullivan / Getty Images
A mural on the side of a brick building in Shreveport, Louisiana. Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
"He's a very good man in many ways, but we're not talking about politics at all," Martha told me. “If we do that, we will fight. We fight terribly. I've gone to a couple of marches; I told my husband I would go to them. He said nothing. I can't sit and call the bank because he would sit here to judge me. "
Martha was suspicious of Trump from the start and believed in 2016 that the Republican candidate was a "fraud". But it's not just Trump's character that she finds problematic. As someone who grew up on a low income and in need of government assistance, she is deeply against Republican efforts to dismantle the social safety net. She also disagrees with Trump's measures to cordon off the border to asylum-seeking immigrants and dislikes the president's trade wars with other countries.
"I think he downsized our country in the world because of his separatist policies," she said. "It started out as a matter of character, but has evolved into both."
What Martha tries to understand most is why her husband and other former close friends who support Trump are defending him as if he were a member of her family, not a politician.
"Is (Trump) more important to you than me?" she remembered asking her husband once. “He just looked at me; he didn't answer me. "
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